Natural disasters cost the U.S. a record-high last year. Yet many Americans aren't prepared for the next one. Photographed damage from Hurricane Irma in Ramrod Key in the Florida Keys.

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Despite the financial and personal catastrophe, Americans don't have an emergency plan.

Although natural disasters cost this country $306 billion in damage last year and two-fifths of Americans say they couldn’t financially recover if they were in one, they’re still not prepared.

Half of those who have lived through a hurricane, tornado or wildfire don’t have a plan in place if another hit, says a report from Farmers Insurance. But natural disasters remain one of the biggest worries among Americans.

“Disaster preparedness is often overlooked,” the report says. “But our inability to control the weather doesn’t mean that we’re powerless in the face of major weather events.”

Making the same mistakes

If you’ve never been through a natural disaster, you might not know how to prepare for one. But for the people who have lived through one, they aren’t doing much better. Among the findings:

  • 70 percent of Americans have experienced some kind of natural disaster — one-third of those were hurricanes.
  • 55 percent of respondents that have been through a natural disaster don’t have a plan in case another one strikes.

When broken down by age, millennials are less prepared and more optimistic about the idea of storms and fires. Almost half — 44 percent — don’t have an emergency plan and 66 percent believe they can rebound after disaster strikes. But this is the group that is least likely to have already been through a natural disaster, even though they are on the rise every year.

How to prepare for an emergency

Even if it’s small, planning what happens in case of an emergency is vital. Whether it’s for a natural disaster or a job loss, you should always be ready to act if things don’t go as planned. Here are a few ways to prepare for a hurricane, tornado, or wildfire before it strikes.

  1. Load up on food and water. You should plan on having at least one gallon of water per person for at least three days. When you get canned food, make sure you have a manual can opener on hand.
  2. Handle medical requirements. Make sure your medication is at the ready. If you have young children or elderly relatives at home, prepare their medications as well.
  3. Clothes and warm necessities. Your future self will thank you for the extra socks and T-shirts you packed before the storm. Also, have blankets and sturdy shoes on hand.
  4. Copy your documents. Keep essential documents digitized on a flash drive, the cloud or printed out and in a Ziplock bag. Consider the deed to your home, emergency contacts (like your insurance company), and cash. Alternative forms of identification, like a passport, are helpful in case you need a backup.
  5. Handy tools. If the power goes out, you’ll need candles and matches. Also load up on flashlights, batteries, trash bags, and small tools.
  6. Don’t forget about your pets. Farmers Insurance says 35 percent of respondents with plans don’t have anything prepared for their pets. Make sure you have enough food, water, medication and doctor contact information for your furry friends.

It’s important to create a plan as well. Go over if and when you’ll leave, who is responsible for what, and what happens if you get separated. For insurance purposes, have recent photos of the inside and outside of your home.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


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